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Villefranche – French for Americans Can’t Pronounce This

It is June 4th, and we have had several days of long tours in a row.  Brighid and I both feel like we could just stay in bed this morning, and the old cliche about needing a vacation after your vacation seems to be ringing true for this trip.  It’s an early tour again today, but it’s only a half day tour, so we’ll have time this afternoon to rest up and recuperate from our several kamikaze style days of touring.

Okay, I am now home from this trip for nearly 2 weeks, and I’m still not sure how you say Villefranche.  There were people on board pronouncing it “VEEL – France”, “Villy-France”, “Vil-Frank”, and “VEEL-Frawnsh”.  I think the last pronunciation is probably the closest to how the French tourguide pronounced it.  However you say it, there is only one way to describe our visit here – absolutely, stunningly gorgeous.

The ship anchors and we have to tender in for our bus tour this morning.  It’s Russell, Brighid and I, and the weather here is sunny and warm.  Russell is wearing shorts when we meet him for breakfast, but the TV description of our tour says you shouldn’t wear shorts or tank tops, as we are going into a church.  Russell goes back to pull on slacks, but when we get on the bus, there are quite a few people – both men and women – who have chosen to wear shorts despite being told it’s improper to do so.  And you wonder why they call us Ugly Americans.

We drive through the towns of Villefranche and Eze (pronounced “EZ”, not “Easy”), and the view is just amazing.  This is the French Riviera, home to celebrities like Bono, The Edge, Elton John, Tina Turner, and Bill Gates.  We head into Monaco, which is only a 6 mile drive from Villefranche, but traffic brings it to nearly an hour trip.  We get off of the bus at the Oceanographic museum, home to the late Jacques Cousteau.  We have the opportunity to visit the yellow submarine used by Cousteau on many of his underwater voyages.  We walk from the museum past the homes of Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie.  The tour guide is not allowed to stop the group in front of the homes, so we move down the street to view them, but on the way back, since we are by ourselves, we take a picture at each home.  I am so surprised that not only are these homes so close to where we are, but that there is no visible security.  I’m sure there are cameras, security wire, electric fencing, guards and large dogs SOMEWHERE, but we cannot see them from where we are.  The homes are pastel and white and surrounded by beautiful vegetation. 

The first stop on our tour is at the Monaco Cathedral.  This is the place where the Royal family of Monaco has celebrated all of it’s important religious events, including the wedding of Prince Ranier to Grace Kelly, the baptism of their children, the funerals of the Prince and Princess, and the coronation of Prince Albert as ruler of the principality.  The Cathedral is just lovely, and we walk to the front, where we can see the tombs of the former princes of Monaco.  When we get to the other side of the altar, there are two tombs covered in flowers – one belonging to the much beloved Princess Grace, and the other belonging to Prince Ranier.  We take a couple of pictures, with Brighid bumping my arm to let me know she disapproves of taking pictures of graves, and then the tour is moving on.

We walked just a short way down the street, and there we were, in the castle foreground.  This is the home of Prince Albert II of Monaco.  The palaces don’t really look like the fairytale castles we envision as children, but more like fortresses.  This one is done in a very light, cream color, and is bright and beautiful, if understated.

By the time we tour the couple of souvenir shops that are there and walk back outside, we learn that the Prince is preparing to leave the palace, so we go join the crowd waiting for his departure.  I am prepared to throw Brighid in front of the motorcade, with a sign saying, “I’m Single!” pinned to her blouse, but we check our watch and find out that our bus will be departing without us if we do not hurry back to the Oceanographic Museum.  We have to miss the Prince by just a few minutes 🙁

We took a short drive from the old town of Monaco (the world’s second smallest country, just larger than Vatican City) to the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo.  This is definitely NOT Atlantic City.  There are signs posted outside the Grand Casino letting people know, in no uncertain terms, that a dress code needs to be followed to gain entrance to this incredible building.  There is a 10 Euro charge to get into the joint, and you must show your passport for security purposes (by the way, Monaco, as small as it is, has the largest per capita police department, and we probably see more police in Monaco than in any other city we’ve been in).  Residents of Monaco are not permitted to gamble in the casinos here, so if you do not have a passport to show, you will not get in.  The dress code does not allow shorts, t-shirts, sneakers, tank tops, etc., and even if you follow the basic dress code, you will only be able to enter the public slot machine area of the casino.  There are other private rooms for games like Blackjack and poker, and some of them have even stricter dress codes.  The building itself is amazing, and on the other side of it is the opera house, which is stunning as well.

The shops here are all high end designer shops – no outlet shopping here!   Brighid buys an ice cream cone, as she has done in ever city we’ve visited.  This is by far the most expensive of the ice cream, at 3.50 euros.  She hands the woman a 10 Euro note, and apologizes for not having something smaller.  At most of our other stops, handing them something so large was a change making problem, as the ice creams were 1 euro, and they didn’t see so many large bills.  In Monte Carlo, the woman happily made change for the 10 euro note.  I told Brighid there was no need to apologize here – they probably use the 10 euro notes to shine their shoes.  I wanted to pick something up for Bob here, but even a deck of cards that had the words Grand Casino on it were nearly $40 (that’s American dollars). 

This ended our much too short trip to Monaco, and we were soon back on the bus, headed back to the ship.  This is the last formal night, and we are going to get a family picture done, so Brighid and I want to take a little nap, get dolled up, and try to look our best.

Dinner tonight is about the most lavish of all the nights so far.  The menu features lobster tail and the waiters parade through the room with a Baked Alaska.  Then they asked us all to hold hands and sing Auld Lang Syne, which was corny but cute.

The show tonight featured the Celebrity singers and dancers and a couple of acrobats, who were VERY good.  Brighid and I were so tired, even though she was getting a little hungry and curious about the midnight gala buffet, she decided to just head back to the room.  We ordered a little room service late night snack and turned in.  It’s a day at sea tomorrow, so hopefully, we’ll get to sleep in a little later!